WWE
News

10 Best NXT Superstars Of 2017

Who ruled the roost in WWE's top brand this year?

NXT is good, but we knew that already.

The bigger story is perhaps that NXT continues to be good, even despite its own self-defeating nature. Its status as a 'developmental' brand (despite consistently producing the best wrestling in WWE) means that its biggest successes never stick around for long.

2016 was unquestionably a banner year for NXT but saw the departure of huge stars such as Finn Balor, Bayley, and Sami Zayn. This was quickly followed by the main roster debuts of Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura in the first half of 2017, who also appeared to leave gaping holes in the NXT roster.

Instead, the brand did what it does best. It stuck to the basics, elevating a new batch of stars with simple booking and a focus on in-ring action.

Many names on this list would never have crossed our minds at the beginning of the year, either because they were yet to properly emerge, or because they simply seemed to lack to momentum and polish to thrive.

Once again, NXT has surpassed expectations - and we love watching it do so.

10. Velveteen Dream


WWE


Velveteen Dream is perhaps NXT's least likely success story, at least of 2017. The 22-year-old seemingly has no right to be as good as he is but delivered one of the brand's matches of the year at NXT TakeOver: WarGames.

The former Tough Enough contestant has only had one meaningful feud since debuting his outlandish new gimmick in May, but the dichotomy between his flamboyant self and the dark, brooding Aleister Black captured fans' imagination.

Their eventual showdown was a brilliant one, and when Black finally showed Velveteen Dream his due respect afterwards, his emergence as NXT's hottest young star was complete. It'll be tremendously exciting to see his next step.


9. Drew McIntyre


WWE


After several excellent years on the independent scene, Drew McIntyre returned to WWE with a self-made storyline laid out before him. Introduced in 2009 as Vince McMahon's 'chosen one', the hype surrounding Drew inevitably proved too much to live up to, and he was released in 2014.

Since first appearing in the front row of TakeOver: Orlando, McIntyre has been on a mission of redemption. He defeated Bobby Roode for the NXT Championship in Brooklyn, and although the match was seen as underwhelming by some, the best was yet to come.

Drew's defence against Andrade 'Cien' Almas was one of the most compelling title matches of the year, momentum constantly shifting back and forth. Ultimately McIntyre lost, and was injured during the final few moments of the match - but he showed us all that he is back with a vengeance. Hopefully we see the towering Scot return to action before too long.

8. Roderick Strong


WWE


Although never the most eye-catching NXT Superstar of the year, Roderick Strong has been a model of consistency and intensity throughout 2017.

The former ROH World Champion struggled to gain momentum due to his place as a fixture of the undercard, but could be relied upon to turn in a good performance when called upon. He beat Andrada 'Cien' Almas in his TakeOver debut, before also defeating Eric Young in an emotionally-charged match in Chicago.

Strong's best rivalry of the year was probably with Bobby Roode, as he managed to get himself over as a very sympathetic babyface despite spending the most notable years of his independent career as a heel. He lost their eventual title match, but gained a measure of revenge in Roode's last televised NXT bout.

7. Aleister Black


WWE


It seems only a matter of time until Aleister Black is the next dominant NXT Champion, or even fast-tracked straight to the main roster. The Dutchman has been booked stronger than any other male singles Superstar in NXT, demolishing opponents with his array of strikes.

However, despite being pushed as an unbeatable force (so far), Black has still managed to have entertaining, unpredictable matches with a variety of opponents. Yes, the smart money always has him winning, but the journey is often thrilling.

The best example is his recent TakeOver: WarGames match with Velveteen Dream, potentially a star-making performance for both men, but Black also enjoyed a wonderful battle with Hideo Itami in August. Expect to see him at the top of this list come December 2018.


6. Johnny Gargano


WWE


Were it not for the injury that kept him out of action for over half the year, Tomasso Ciampa would certainly be joining his former tag partner on the list.

Apologies for making it sound as though Gargano can't escape Ciampa's shadow - but, cleverly, that's exactly the storyline NXT appear to be running with. Since Tomasso's devastating betrayal at TakeOver: Chicago, Johnny Wrestling has cut a forlorn, distracted figure. It's wonderful long-term storytelling, and their eventual blowoff should be an incredibly compelling match.

Beyond the break-up and subsequent solo run (including excellent bouts against Andrade Almas and Pete Dunne), Gargano's year has been filled with characteristically great tag team action.

As a unit, DIY were often the most must-see feature of a TakeOver card. Their three-way elimination match in Orlando was one of the best of the year, and they gave us a thrilling send-off in their final bout as a team - TakeOver: Chicago's ladder war.

5. Ember Moon


WWE


The fact that Ember Moon appears so highly on this list is a testament to her tenacity and skill. It's a fantastic achievement for any female NXT Superstar to have impressed in the shadow of the all-conquering Asuka. Ember Moon did it, though - and did so largely in defeat.

Her Orlando loss to the Empress of Tomorrow drew positive reviews, only for both women to top their performances in a brilliant Brooklyn rematch.

In both cases, though, Moon lost. Even when Asuka was called up to the main roster, she still had to go through three other women to grasp the Women's Championship. She did so, and was finally awarded the belt by her long-term rival while earning a well-deserved standing ovation.

4. Bobby Roode


WWE


Although not the most wildly popular NXT Champion in the brand's history, Bobby Roode provided the top of the card with a different feel for most of 2017.

After the main roster debuts of Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe, it was refreshing to have a more cerebral, arrogant heel as Champion. His matches didn't hurt either. A long Orlando clash with Nakamura divided opinion, but their original bout in San Antonio was a far more easily enjoyable affair.

Roode also demonstrated his versatility, using his size against smaller opponents like Roderick Strong and Hideo Itami, before scrapping with the larger Drew McIntyre.

Before being called up to SmackDown, he was perhaps the most experienced star in NXT. With an extensive TNA career behind him, there's no question that the Glorious One put his knowledge to use over the course of the year.


3. Andrade 'Cien' Almas


WWE


Twelve months ago, who would have thought we'd see Andrade Almas as NXT Champion come the end of 2017?

Almas entered NXT to much hype, having enjoyed a dazzling career in Mexico and Japan as the masked 'La Sombra'. It's fair to say that he struggled to catch on with fans, who didn't quite buy his smooth babyface persona. Reinventing himself as a more aggressive heel in the summer, he aligned with the devious Zelina Vega, and hasn't looked back since.

Almas' rise since then has been a quick and emphatic one. He springboarded from an entertaining mid-card rivalry with Johnny Gargano to a title feud with Drew McIntyre and shockingly defeated the Brit in a wonderful match at TakeOver: WarGames. NXT now appears to be the Mexican's oyster, and we can't wait to see how he goes about defending his NXT Championship.

2. Authors Of Pain


WWE


The Authors of Pain initially seemed to be an unwelcome intrusion into the NXT Tag Team Championship scene. With the smaller, more technical DIY and Revival providing Match of the Year contenders, few were interested in the hulking behemoths slowing everything down.

Instead, Akam and Rezar proved to be more than simple monsters. Managed by the legendary Paul Ellering, the Authors have mixed cunning and brutality throughout a shockingly impressive year.

After defeating Gargano and Ciampa for the belts in San Antonio, the pair emerged victorious from a compelling three-team elimination match at WrestleMania weekend. They again retained the titles in a very violent ladder match with DIY, before losing them to SAnitY at TakeOver: Brooklyn III.

No momentum was lost in losing the championships, however, as the Authors went on to form an integral part of the thrilling WarGames bout in Houston. The most terrifying part of it all? Both Akam and Rezar are under 25 years old.

1. Asuka


WWE


She may be tearing through the Raw women's division as we speak, but it wasn't so long ago that Asuka was the undisputed top dog of NXT. After wrenching the Women's Championship away from Bayley in 2016, we were left wondering who would defeat the Empress of Tomorrow before her inevitable ascent to the main roster.

The answer turned out to be nobody. Asuka's dominance continued throughout 2017, as she defended the belt against all-comers - sometimes triumphing against more than one opponent, as seen in Chicago when she pinned Ruby Riot and Nikki Cross simultaneously.

Her other victories weren't always so emphatic. Her two singles bouts with Ember Moon were compelling, back-and-forth affairs, while a Last Woman Standing match with Cross saw Asuka pushed to the limit in a wonderful car-crash of a contest.

Unfortunately, a poorly-timed injury forced the Japanese star to vacate the belt, ending her reign at 510 days. William Regal proclaimed her one of the greatest champions in WWE history, and an era was truly over.

Share this post

WWE Announce New 'Mixed Match Challenge' Show On Facebook Watch

Two Former WWE Superstars Expected To Return Once Impact Contracts Expire

Jack G. King

Written by Jack G. King

Head of News at Cultaholic.com | [email protected]